Australia’s consumer watchdog investigates sale of hearing aids

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a report on 'Issues around the sale of hearing aids' to encourage industry to reconsider commissions, disclosure and sales practices.

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The ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said it is concerned about a range of business practices in the hearing services industry, particularly around incentive based sales and commissions that are commonly used to motivate clinicians to sell hearing aids.

“Some hearing clinics encourage clinicians to sell more expensive hearing aids by setting sales targets, paying commissions to clinicians, having arrangements that favour certain brands or are owned by companies that manufacture hearing aids.”

“Commission-based selling can provide incentives to clinicians to supply hearing aids that are unnecessary or more expensive than a consumer needs.  This has the potential to lead to consumer harm where trusted advice is being given to patients, many of whom may be vulnerable or disadvantaged.  Hearing clinics should be conscious of the incentives they offer and consider remuneration structures that reward service and quality advice ahead of sales,” Ms Court said.

The ACCC has requested that hearing clinic operators review their incentive programs and performance measures to ensure that they do not create a conflict between healthcare advice and sales.

Deafness Forum of Australia, the peak consumer body in the hearing health sector said that the ACCC investigation highlights a lack of transparency that puts consumers at risk at a time when they are most vulnerable.
“The practice of upselling, commissions and bundling the cost of a device with followup rehabilitation service is an area of risk for consumers who may have no objective way of knowing whether the device recommended is best suited for their individual needs,” said Deafness Forum chairperson David Brady.

"The arrangement where a hearing care professional receives a financial payment for promoting a particular product brings in a level of uncertainty to a relationship that needs to be built on trust.

“Consumers do not want the advice they receive to be in any way influenced, or compromised by the payment of a financial incentive.

Acknowledging that not all hearing clinics have this practice, Deafness Forum believes that most audiologists would prefer to be rewarded by employers for the quality of their service and the outcomes their clients achieve.

“We support the recommendations of the ACCC and would like to work with the hearing industry to help it develop alternative remuneration structures that reward quality and outcomes over sales," Mr Brady said.

Hearing is not one of Australia’s national health priorities.  It means we do not have the adequate investment in services and research we need.  It also means there is not a focus on community education.  It’s a barrier that is preventing too many Australians from reaching their potential.

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